Succession dressing: how the polo neck came back in style | Women’s tops

October 29, 2021

Polo necks are smarter than other jumpers. In both senses. Smarter, because a sleek, high neck has a polish that the common-or-garden crew neck falls short of, and a poise that the cardigan can never hope for. But smarter, too, because a polo neck is cleverer than other jumpers. Steve Jobs. Phoebe Philo. People who wear polo necks run the world. In the knitwear yearbook, the polo neck would be the Most Likely To Succeed.

Most power dressing isn’t comfy. High heels and sharp tailoring are awesome, but not what you want to wear to curl up on the sofa. But the cosy polo neck is different. This is the Christmas jumper of autumn, a sensory seasonal treat, like the scent of cinnamon or the crunch of leaves underfoot, or the rich velvet of Craig Revel Horwood’s Saturday night drawl.

Around this time each year I drag a chair across the room and climb up to get the heavy artillery of my knitwear collection from the top of the wardrobe, where it sits out summer. The plush, charcoal grey one, extra long to keep out draughts from all angles; the navy one with the outsize funnel neck and cropped hem (more fashion, that one); a red fisherman’s knit rib one that is pure Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally. And hanging these up in my wardrobe is to October what getting the baubles down and dressing the tree is to December.

It wasn’t always like this. Polo necks used to be boringly sensible. If they were chunky, they were the “big jumpers” your mum wanted you to wear if you wore something you could catch your death in. If they were tight, they were cheesy (see Ron Burgundy in Anchorman). Then, one October day in 2011, there came that Céline show. There were 35 outfits in the show but the one everyone remembers was the 36th. At the end of the show Phoebe Philo herself emerged and took her bow in a thick camel polo-neck sweater with her long hair tucked into it at the back. The next day, everyone at the Paris shows had their hair tucked into the back of a polo neck. I know you think I’m exaggerating for comic effect, but I’m not; I’m talking about fashion week, which does the exaggerating for comic effect for you.

Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy in Succession. Photograph: HBO/Rex

The polo neck has been the last word in chic authority ever since. Samuel L Jackson (always cool) matched his to his black eye patch in the Avengers films. Emmanuel Macron (not nearly as cool as he thinks he is, but at least French) likes to wear one under a blazer. The now-disgraced Elizabeth Holmes made them her uniform back when she still was a Silicon Valley pinup. Now the television costume designers – the Phoebe Philos of our day, thought-leaders of the style universe, more influential than any name you see up in lights at fashion week – have embraced a high neck as a key look for the maverick alpha woman. Suranne Jones in Vigil held her own against the epauletted pomp of naval uniforms in her thick, black high-neck.

But the queen of the small-screen polo is, of course, Shiv Roy from Succession, that firm chin lifted Nefertiti-high above covetable stealth-wealth knitwear. (A polo neck, by the way, requires good hair. Try Audrey Hepburn’s sleek pony in Sabrina, Philo’s half-tuck, or a sleek bob, as seen in Vigil and Succession.)

I’ll put it like this. A woman who wears a cardigan looks friendly, helpful – the kind of woman you might ask to do you a favour. A woman who wears a polo neck looks like she would tell you what to do, and you would do it. Ask yourself: what would Shiv do?

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